Text By Mark Montovio
(GLOBE MAGAZINE SEPTEMBER 2020)
Traditionally, this dish is a summer favourite in the north of Morocco and it is usually prepared with sardines, although today I’ve used anchovies, as that was what was fresh. Tuna and swordfish also work very well, and it can either be cooked in chunks, or chopped up into bite sized pieces. I remember having this dish often as I was growing up, ‘sardinas a la moruna’, and it has become one of my favourite fish dishes because although the sauce is rich and beautifully flavoured, the sardines cope very well with this and the marriage is blissful.
The traditional way to spice the dish is using a chermoula marinade, which consists of combining, fresh coriander and parsley, garlic, black pepper, ground cumin, paprika, olive oil, and lemon juice, I use the juice of preserved lemons, which I then add to the dish in strips.
Although I cook it in a tagine, I have to do so inside the oven because I have an induction hob, but it works beautifully well. I tend to put the base of the tagine in the oven for about 20 minutes to really heat up, much like a hot stone for steak, and cook the tomato sauce in a frying pan. The usual thing. The basics: good quality tomatoes, onion, green peppers and garlic fried in extra virgin olive oil.
The chermoula mix can be shop bought, but it is very easy to make, just by blending the ingredients above in a pestle and mortar, and it actually keeps well in the fridge. Once mixed, you just need to spoon a little on the inside of the cleaned sardine. You can then close the sardine up, but I actually love to make a little sardine sandwich laying one on top of another.
Once all the sardines have been spiced up, and the sauce is ready to use, it’s a question of getting the tagine out of the hot oven and pouring the tomato sauce in. The sizzle and smell is hypnotic! Of course you could mix the sardines up with the sauce, you would do that if you use tuna and swordfish, but one thing I love about Moroccan cooking is their attention to detail and I love laying them out as you can see in the pictures. That done I add a bit more olive oil to the remaining chermoula mix and pour it over the sardines. I add the strips of preserved lemon, a little more fresh coriander, which I love, and usually Moroccan olives, which I am patiently waiting to grab as soon as I can make it again to Morocco.
Back into the oven at 180 degrees for about 20 minutes, but that of course depends on the thickness of the fish, and whether you like it very well done.
It really is a dish to die for with crusty Moroccan bread and a glass of vinho verde from Portugal, although red wine also goes well with this dish, and should you have any left over it’s cause to get excited. Use a fork to mash it all up, or blend it if you prefer a smoother consistency, and use it on toasted bread, just like the pate served in Portugal before your meal!
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Mark Montovio shares some of his much loved local and world recipes, opening up possibilities for making each dish to suit a variety of families, different tastes and particular dietary needs. Combining his love of different cultures and world cuisine he is also committed to preparing meals which are nutritious, tasty and good to look at, with minimum waste and using seasonal produce.